Media: Action Alert

Support the proposed Fisheries Management Plan that would establish a zero harvest level for Sargassum in the southern Atlantic Ocean -- A Vital Habitat for Hatchling Sea Turtles

Date: October 13, 1999
Contact: Dan Evans
Phone: (352) 373-6441

How You Can Help

The National Marine Fisheries Service has given written notice to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council that it should: ". . . give serious consideration to developing management measures that would allow for the continued, but restricted, harvest of pelagic Sargassum."

Thus, if the Council does not heed NMFS written request, NMFS will reject the Council's protection plan to prohibit the future harvest of Sargassum.

Please act now to help prevent NMFS from requiring the continued harvest of Sargassum. Urge NMFS to approve the South Atlantic Council's Sargassum plan and stop the harvest of this vital offshore habitat to sea turtles and other marine species!

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Your comments are needed on this very important issue before October 25,1999! Comments must be sent to:

Robert Sadler
National Marine Fisheries Service
Southeast Regional Office
9721 Executive Center Drive N
St. Petersburg, FL 33702
Phone: 727-570-5305 / Fax: 727-570-5583
E-mail Robert Sadler: robert.sadler@noaa.gov

Pelagic Sargassum is an abundant brown algae that occurs near the surface in warm waters of the western North Atlantic that supports a diverse assemblage of marine organisms, including over 100 species of fish, fungi, micro- and macro-epiphytes, at least 145 species of invertebrates, five species of sea turtles, and numerous marine birds. It is particularly important to the survival of hatchling and post-hatchling sea turtles, which are known to spend the first year or more of their lives drifting in the sargassum rafts that gather in the Gulf Stream and circle the Atlantic.

Last year the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) voted to ban the harvest and possession of sargassum sea weed in the South Atlantic effective January 1, 2001. During a two-year phaseout, sargassum harvest will be capped at 25 tons/yr (estimated harvest was 180 tons/yr during this period) and restricted to the area of ocean greater than 100 nautical miles from the Outer Banks, North Carolina, and between latitudes corresponding to the northern and southern borders of North Carolina.

The SAFMC has submitted a Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the Pelagic Sargassum Habitat Fishery of the South Atlantic Region for review, approval, and implementation by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) The FMP would establish a management plan for Sargassum; identify essential fish habitat for Sargassum; establish habitat areas of particular concern for Sargassum; limits the harvest to 50,000 lb (22,680 kg) wet weight until January 1, 2001; and prohibits the harvest or possession of pelagic Sargassum off the southern Atlantic states starting January 1, 2001.

The NMFS will consider comments received on or before October 25, 1999 in its decision to approve, disapprove, or partially approve the FMP. Please send a letter in support of the proposed FMP. NMFS will not consider comments received after that date in this decision, so please let your opinion be heard as soon as possible. Comments must be mailed to:

Robert Sadler
National Marine Fisheries Service
Southeast Regional Office
9721 Executive Center Drive N
St. Petersburg, FL 33702
Phone: 727-570-5305 / Fax: 727-570-5583
E-mail: robert.sadler@noaa.gov

and

Dr. William Hogarth, Regional Administrator
Southeast Regional Office, NMFS
9721 Executive Center Drive N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33702.

You can view the notice of availability and request for comments on the Council's draft sargassum FMP on the internet in pdf format on the Habitat Homepage at the councils website

Other background information:

Research has found that sargassum provides nearly 60% of the primary productivity in the upper three feet of the ocean and provides nutrients to organisms at deeper water depths as the older plants die and eventually sink.

For sea turtles, sargassum plays a vital role in the early stages of life for hawksbill, green and loggerhead sea turtles. Once hatchlings reach the ocean from their nesting beach, they swim out to the floating mats of sargassum sea weed. The floating mats provide a wide variety of food and provide cover, helping to increase their chance of survival at this very vulnerable stage in life.

It has been suggested by proponents of continued sargassum harvest that sea turtle hatchlings and other wildlife can be removed and released alive while the sargassum is collected. In addition to the fact that hatchling turtles and other small critters would be difficult to spot in the weed mats, even the released turtles would likely die without the food and shelter provided by the sargassum.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide on this issue!